There have been few occasions when Patrick Mahomes, in what has been an virtually flawless 92-game soccer profession, has confronted a quandary like this. There was no NFL studying curve for him. He threw 50 landing passes his first full season as a starter, in 2018. He’s 64-16 as a regular-season quarterback.
He has performed 12 playoff video games.
Ten of these 12 video games — all however the two Tremendous Bowls wherein he has performed — have been held within the comfy sea of pink of Arrowhead Stadium. Take into consideration that. Take into consideration simply how dominant his Chiefs groups have been. Not one street recreation within the postseason. Ever. He has one MVP Award. He’s, at worst, an even-money favourite so as to add a second one this 12 months.
But this week, Mahomes will face one thing he has virtually by no means confronted earlier than. Coming to Arrowhead this Sunday for the AFC Championship recreation are Joe Burrow and the Bengals, and within the days because the Who Deys flattened the Payments in Buffalo, there has grown one thing of an angelic aura round them and their cool-as-a-movie-theater-in-August quarterback.
“They’re a fantastic workforce and he’s a fantastic participant,” Mahomes stated Wednesday morning in Kansas Metropolis, Mo. “I feel all people is aware of that.”
So it’s completely different for Mahomes this time. Throughout most of his profession, he has been the hunted, and he has been the largest star on the sector. He has largely lived as much as all of that hype. (Who’re we kidding? He has largely surpassed it.) However additionally it is truthful, particularly reasonable, to level out that although he has received 9 of these 12 postseason video games, the three losses have come in opposition to two quarterbacks.
1. Tom Brady, within the 2018 AFC Championship recreation and once more in Tremendous Bowl LV two years later.
2. Joe Burrow, within the 2021 AFC Championship recreation, after Burrow noticed Mahomes and crew a 21-3 lead.
Mahomes and the Chiefs have confronted Burrow and the Bengals two different occasions the previous two common seasons. The Bengals received each of these video games, too. So it’s Cincinnati that can convey a three-game successful streak within the collection to Arrowhead this Sunday, it’s Cincinnati that has drawn greater than 77 p.c of the pregame playing motion, transferring the road as many as 4.5 factors. It’s Burrow who has emerged, for now, as the favored alternative for the query: Who’s the one participant you begin your workforce with?
Mahomes has by no means been an underdog earlier than. He’s an underdog now. Each actually and metaphorically. There’s one notable dissident.
“Each time I stroll on a discipline,” Mahomes stated Wednesday, “I don’t really feel like I’m an underdog. Particularly at Arrowhead.”
It would behoove the Bengals — and everybody else — to heed the warning:
Watch out for Underdog.
Actually watch out for this reputed underdog. Mahomes has been humbled by the Bengals. He has additionally been betrayed by his physique — although he walked and not using a limp Wednesday morning, he’s nonetheless simply 4 days faraway from a analysis of a excessive ankle sprain, and all of us noticed how he struggled to maneuver in opposition to the Jaguars.
“He’s had accidents earlier than,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid stated. “He can financial institution on that previous expertise he’s had. He’ll do high-quality, regardless of. We’re simply ensuring he’s protected — protected as you may be on the market on a soccer discipline, anyway.”
There are occasions if you suppose the Mahomes Expertise has run out of adjectives, if not steam, and that’s normally across the time he pulls a no-look cross out of his bag of methods, or a left-handed toss, or a basketball jump-shot TD throw — or merely a textbook-perfect spiral right into a ready set of arms, normally belonging to Travis Kelce, usually close to the purpose line.
On Sunday, he’ll convey that ordinary array of goodies with him in addition to a few different issues that aren’t normally a part of the repertoire: a chip on his shoulder, for one, and a necessity for retribution. He was horrible within the second half of the AFC title recreation final 12 months, when the Bengals got here again to win 27-24, and he quietly insisted, “This was all my fault” amid the detritus of that defeat.
Burrow additionally completely outplayed him within the Bengals’ win Dec. 4 — additionally 27-24, which was the primary time the hypothesis started to brew that perhaps there was a passing of the torch taking place among the many NFL’s gold-standard quarterbacks. Neither workforce has misplaced since. Any person absolutely will on Sunday.
“We all know who we’re enjoying,” Mahomes stated. “We all know what they’ve carried out in opposition to us.”
Perhaps the Bengals do have the Chiefs’ quantity. Perhaps Burrow can spend Sunday solidifying his marketing campaign because the NFL’s new prime gunner. Perhaps. All of that posits that Patrick Mahomes will give up all of that. You make such presumptions at your personal danger. Watch out for this underdog.